The return of the prodigal son

Now a famous healer, Chumba Lama returns to his mother and home village to help others

MOTHER AND SON: Chumba hugs his mother, Chhang Palmo, after returning to his village in northern Gorkha after 30 years.

Chumba Lama looked into the small house and called: “Who is inside?” His mother recognised that voice immediately even though she hadn’t heard it for three decades. Tears rolled down her wizened cheeks as she hugged her son and looked him over from all sides. “I was crying for 30 years, my son,” his mother said in Tibetan. “I couldn’t die without seeing you.”

Chumba had finally come home to his village of Chhekamparo of northern Gorkha district after leaving it when he was seven years old. His mother, Chhang Palmo, had been raped by a Khampa guerrilla in 1971 when she was a teenager. After giving birth, she went to the father but he kicked and chased her out of his house.Chhang Palmo’s family treated her like an outcast, and her neighbours didn’t help. She worked the tsampa and potato fields carrying the baby on her back. Sometimes, when she was really hungry, she had to steal corn from a neighbour’s field. Chhang Palmo sold liquor and sometimes her own body to take care of her baby.

When Chumba was seven, his maternal uncle who was in the Indian Army took him to Kathmandu. Today, 30 years later, Chumba still remembers the aroma of the rare rice meal his mother cooked on his last night in Chhekamparo. She gave him a Rs 10 note the next morning, it was all she had.

It took them eight days to walk to Gorkha, and the little boy had to run to keep up with his uncle. He was taunted and teased by the lowlanders: “Stinky, dirty Bhote”. But even that was better than being called a “bastard” in his village. Chumba was fascinated by blue Sajha buses and wondered how something as big as a house moved on the road. In Kathmandu, he was agog at the sight of cars and motorcycles and traffic.

Soon after, his uncle died of a heart attack. Chumba became a street child, joining hundreds in Thamel begging from tourists. He competed with stray dogs for leftovers from restaurants, he was bullied and raped by older street children, he sniffed glue, sold marijuana to survive. Every night he slept on the sidewalk under an open sky, using paper boxes as blanket and hugging dogs for warmth. Some tourists gave him pens, which he sold to buy biscuits meant to feed monkeys at Swayambhu.


One of the schools he has built.

A Japanese tourist took him to Japan but he didn’t like it there and returned. He latched on to a Lama guru who sent him to Sri Lanka to be trained in acupressure where he mastered a four year course in eight months. Later, in New Delhi, he met German fashion designer Ute Riedlinger in Delhi and got married.

In Germany, he honed his skills in alternative healing and found his practice and fame spreading far and wide. Today, Chumba travels around the world teaching his own brand of Tibetan breath yoga that he calls Shey Tsum Yoga, named after his home valley in Nepal. A German tv channel is making a program on his life and his autobiography is being published soon.

Chumba was so busy he had forgotten his mother. Recently, on one of his trips leading a tour group to Tibet he ran into a friend and found out that his mother was still alive. The reunion was emotional for both mother and son. Chumba saw his mother was coughing from breathing smoke from her stove, so he bought her a smokeless one. When he came back a year later with his German biographer, he noticed that she had given the stove to a neighbour who didn’t have one.

When he asked his mother what she wanted, she told him to share his knowledge with the entire village. So he has helped build two schools in Tsum Valley and paid for teachers. Since water is a problem, Chumba is helping build a village water supply system. Chumba says he bears no grudges against his father, holds no rancour for the way he was treated in his early life. He tells others to respect their parents: “It is only when you don’t have the love of your parents you realise how important that is.”

Guna Raj Luitel is the editor of Annapurna Post.

Nepali Times 1-7 November 2013 #679


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